Lawrence Frank was sitting in a hotel conference room after last week’s NBA draft had finished when the Clippers’ president of basketball operations remarked how nice it had been not to shake up the roster with a move.
The sentiment wasn’t limited to draft night. It underscored the entire offseason plan. The Clippers did have their eye on additions, such as a lead ballhandler. But Frank’s stated top priority was continuity, retaining as many of their own free agents as possible and holding together a core the team believes has the essential ingredients to compete for a championship in a modern NBA predicated on shooting, versatility and length.
As free agency opened Thursday across the NBA against the backdrop of Kevin Durant’s league-altering trade demand from Brooklyn, the Clippers stayed steady, quickly agreeing to deals to bring back two of their own in wings Nicolas Batum and Amir Coffey, while losing backup center Isaiah Hartenstein to New York on a two-year contract worth $16.7 million, a person familiar with the terms who is not authorized to speak publicly confirmed.
Still in progress was the expected addition of point guard John Wall, who had signaled his intent to sign after having his contract bought out in Houston days earlier. Wall thanked the Rockets on Twitter less than an hour before free agency began, even though the team’s intent to rebuild had exiled him from the NBA for 14 months.
Batum will sign a two-year deal worth $22 million, a contract facilitated by the team possessing his early Bird rights, according to another person with knowledge of the terms not authorized to speak publicly. It was the expected result from a 15-year veteran who had said only weeks earlier that he intended to remain a Clipper until coach Tyronn Lue told him to leave. And the Clippers decidedly did not want the 6-foot-9 veteran who has made 40.2% of his three-pointers, guarded all five positions and provided a veteran’s calm since joining the team in 2020 to leave.
“It’s 12:45 am here in Paris and I have to get up at 4am for my 5am workout,” Batum wrote on Twitter. “I don’t care, I’m very excited to be back with this organization who welcome me at my lowest point.”
Coffey, a restricted free agent, agreed to a three-year contract worth $11 million. There are no options for the team or player as part of the deal, according to two people with knowledge of the terms.
Holding onto Coffey gives the Clippers flexibility to plug in a trusted, in-house option for increased minutes in the event any of their other wings are traded. For Coffey, it is a reward for his patience and progress, and a sign the team values him as a player who will enter training camp with a legitimate shot to win rotation minutes.
An undrafted wing out of Minnesota, Coffey signed two-way contracts with the Clippers in 2019 and again last season before a breakout season aided by injuries up and down the roster, including to Paul George, that gave Coffey more opportunities to display his development as a ballhandler in pick-and-roll plays and improved outside shooting.
“Looking back at my past few years, seeing my progression, and the work that I put in, especially a year like this where it’s kind of paying off a little bit, it’s a good feeling,” Coffey said in April. “But I feel like I just got to keep working, so I just can’t stop.”
Last season, he posted career highs with 69 appearances, 22.7 minutes per game, 9.0 points while shooting 54% inside the arc and 37% beyond it. The “dramatic, dramatic gains” of its under-25 core, including Coffey, Terance Mann, Luke Kennard, Brandon Boston Jr. and Ivica Zubac last season, were what Frank called the season’s “silver lining” when the season ended during the play-in tournament.
“There was significant progress made that when we layer on top of this group, Kawhi [Leonard] and PG, we feel we’re a legitimate championship contender when fully healthy,” Frank said in April.
The Clippers could not keep another of the players whom Frank included in that group. Hartenstein, a deft passer and reliable rim protector, reached his two-year agreement with the Knicks quickly, leaving his old team to decide how to fill out its backup center role.
The team can target a traditional big man, or commit fully to spaced-out lineups with five shooters by using their glut of multiposition wings such as Marcus Morris Sr. and Robert Covington to man the spot when Zubac isn’t on the court. Of course, those options aren’t mutually exclusive, with the latter option still available even if one of their future signings adds more size.